After being away from Los Angeles for a while, it was nice to return home and do something uniquely LA. Visiting Cinespia at Hollywood Forever cemetery is a summer tradition. Each weekend of summer Cinespia.org shows fabulous films under the stars. People pack picnics and blankets, cozy up with friends and family and watch classic beloved movies.
This past Saturday I viewed Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Being a child born in the 80s this movie holds a special place in my heart. It was the first time Tim Burton and Danny Elfman worked together on a movie. Since then, I’ve loved every one of their collaborations. Pee Wee’s Playhouse was a Satuday morning fixture in my house. I distinctly remember screaming “today’s magic word” while eating cereal. I haven’t seen Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in over 15 years. So much about what I loved then, still holds true today. A quirky lovable main character, adventure, clay-mation scenes and of course iconic lines. “I’m a loner Dottie, a rebel.” I was really excited to relive this childhood memory with a group of like minded movie goers.
Cinespia opens it’s doors at 7pm and the movie begins at 9pm. This gives attendees plenty of time to find the perfect spot to lay out your blanket and picnic. Dj’s spin music and the screen shows rotating classic movie posters as previews. You can bring food, snacks, and alcohol. It’s nice to enjoy finger foods with wine and friends while listening to some great music in a beautiful outdoor setting. This weekend’s spread included: white wine, olives, fried chicken, hummus, pita, cut veggies, artichoke dip, cantaloupe, a meat & cheese platter, sour patch kids and cookies and cream flavored cookies. Definitely no shortage of good snacks in our group. There is a vendor selling popcorn, sodas and candy like a regular movie theater if you’re craving something more traditional.
Cinespia does allow you to bring low back chairs (the kind that sit on the ground, not on legs) but are relegated to the sides of the lawn. I prefer a large blanket, so I can sit towards the center. The projection screen is huge so even if you are far back, you can still get a great view. Recently DTS redid the entire sound system. Having gone for a few years in a row, I can tell you that the only thing lacking in previous years was awesome sound. That is no longer an issue. On this particular visit, I attended with one of my good friends who works for DTS. This gave us the opportunity to gain early entry and sit in the center in front of the VIP section. It was amazing. I’m totally spoiled. Now it’s the only place I want to sit. I even saw Questlove of the Roots sitting a couple rows behind me in the VIP section. It was so cool! Last summer I saw Purple Rain at Cinespia and Questlove dj’d the event. Now we were both just chilling watching Pee Wee with a couple thousand other Los Angelenos.
It’s common for Cinespia to have a speaker announce the movie. Sometimes it’s someone involved with the actual film, other times it’s a super fan, or someone who works for Cinespia.org. This time we were all blown away when they announced Paul Reubens name! Pee Wee was here in the flesh! He also brought along a few friends. The actors who played Dottie, Simone, Chip and The Amazing Larry were there to share stories from the film.
TIPS for a successful trip to Cinespia
- Arrive early if you want a good seat up front. This was the only time I received special early entry. Most years I arrive around 5pm and wait two hours in line for the doors to open. I know it sounds crazy, but if you really love the film and want to be close, it’s a must. For Princess Bride we arrived early and began picnicking on the lawn while waiting in line. It’s really just an excuse to get the party started sooner.
- Buy your tickets early. (Are we noticing a theme here?) The most popular movies sell out fast. Labyrinth sold out in one day. Pee Wee sold out in a few weeks. I invited some friends to meet me there and by the time they checked out the website, the tickets were sold out.
- Pack lots of food and drinks. You have at least two hours upon entry (not counting time spent in line) to wait for the film to start. Might as well eat and drink up! This way by the time it’s dark and the movie starts you are all finished and can use your precious blanket space for snuggling not snacking.
- Take some time to wander around. Hollywood Forever cemetery is beautiful. I always enjoy reading some headstones each visit. This trip I found someone who died on my favorite holiday, Halloween. Cinespia also offers a themed photo booth, djs and vendors. If it’s your first visit take the time to check them out.
- Don’t forget the essentials. It’s easy to remember to pack food and drinks but what about trash bags? Yes there are trash recepticles lining the walkways but if you’re in the center that’s a long haul over other peoples blankets. Unless you remember to purchase screw top drinks don’t forget a wine or beer opener. Hand sanitzer is a must. Cinespia offers portable bathrooms and foot pump wash stations but soap is scarce and if you’re eating finger foods you want to keep it clean.
The film lived up to everything I remember. The Rube Goldberg breakfast machine still makes me laugh. I remembered being so scared of Large Marge as a child. The iconic white platform shoes “break-dancing” on the bar to Tequila. It was simply perfect. At one point toward the end of the movie, Pee Wee calls Dottie to wire him a bus ticket in Texas. She doesn’t believe he’s actually there, so he calls out to the locals, “the stars at night are big and bright…” The entire audience of Cinespia (without being prompted) claps and sings, “deep in the heart of Texas.” It’s those moments that make Cinespia so special. Yes I love seeing classic movies, under the stars with a picnic. But the camaraderie of sharing a collective memory is electric. In a city where everyone is hustling and doing their own thing, you feel connected to your town in a powerful way for one brief line in a movie.
The Cinespia season isn’t over yet! Check out their website for the rest of this summer’s schedule. I may have to make a labor day weekend visit to check out Psycho, or Ferris Bueller’s Day off on Sept 5th and 6th. Hope to see you there!
Has anyone been to Cinespia before? Favorite screening? Have a tip to share?